Sermon 6/11/23: Christ Lutheran Church
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
Good morning! My name is Kat Peters. I am a Lutheran Deaconess and VU grad, and I have been accompanying a number of you for the past four years as you discern issues of international and local ministry. My kids also attend Little Lamb Preschool, an experience they have greatly enjoyed. I spent nine years living in Costa Rica, working in study abroad and being a deaconess at the Central American Lutheran Church amongst Nicaraguan immigrants and refugees, until my Costa Rican husband was assigned to come work here, in Northwest Indiana. Believe me, I wasn’t planning to come back to Midwest winters! But God has a funny way of sending us out on unexpected journeys, to learn and do things that weren’t necessarily part of our own plans.
The texts we have for today are stories of going out from our home town or country, and coming back, what happens in the in-between time, and what we learn to do upon return. We can read these as stories of dislocation, which is the theme that Pastor Erica has gifted to us through her sabbatical. Which is why I’m here, by the way, helping to fill in.
Pastor Erica wrote you a letter about her Summer Clergy Renewal. In it, she says, “Times of dislocation are fruitful ground for spiritual growth. The structures, routines, and assumptions we rely on are disturbed; we are invited to respond with curiosity and creativity in imagining new ways forward. Dislocation offers the gift of being a stranger, seeking new forms of connection and finding new communities. Dislocation de-centers us, reminding us that God and God’s world are much bigger than our limited vision.”
The Costa Rica Mission Team – or, as I prefer to call them, the Vision Team, on a Vision Trip – are preparing for a time of dislocation. On June 24th, we will leave our structure, routine and assumptions. We will be strangers staying with Costa Rican families in their homes for one week. We will feel de-centered, and we will see that God’s world is much bigger than we are. We don’t know yet what response of curiosity and creativity in imagining new ways forward will come of the trip, but we do know that we will be sharing stories and being transformed.
The topics of the trip are refugees and climate change. We will stay with people from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, as well as landless and indigenous people in Costa Rica who are finding a sense of belonging in a new land.
We know that the refugees that we have met and will meet this year have experienced unfathomable dislocation, against their will. They arrive to new towns, new countries, new communities, and seek belonging. What do we, who already belong, stand to gain by giving up our security and comforts, and experiencing dislocation?
In our texts for today, Abram goes out from his country, his kin and his father’s house. He leaves everything that is familiar to him. He is given three promises – to be made into a great nation, to have his name be made great, and to be a blessing to others. We know from our reading of Genesis that Abram died without receiving these promises. And yet, he set out from his country in faith. His descendants also experienced dislocation. Jacob literally had his hip put out of joint as he wrestled for a blessing. Joseph was forcibly dislocated by his own brothers, a political refugee, if you will. He ended up saving Egypt from famine.
By the way, just an aside… I love that verse 9 of Genesis 12 says that Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. In the Formation Hour we will discuss the stages of cultural adjustment. Our dislocation, and the blessings that come from it, comes in stages many times, ups and downs. And yet we set out in faith.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is coming back to his own town, as mentioned in verse 1 of chapter 9. If we go back and read through the first 8 chapters of Matthew, we can see Jesus’ birth, his escape to Egypt, his baptism and the beginning of his ministry. He goes out to many places, teaching and healing. In Chapter 8 we start to see people approaching him, requesting healing. But in Chapter 9 something shifts. He comes to his hometown, and he keeps doing what he’s been doing. But things are different now. I like to think that Jesus has been going through a bit of transformation on his journeys. We hear in our reading today that he calls Matthew, a tax collector. And then he follows him to his home and eats with him. Perhaps he has learned to do this on his travels, where he was dependent on the hospitality of others. But now, when he comes home and eats at Matthew’s house, the Pharisees are very critical. “Here’s a guy that has studied with us and knows the Scriptures, and suddenly he is giving us a bad name by spending time with such sinners!”
The next story we get today is how Jesus is approached with a request for healing, and he follows “the leader” to his home. Again, this seems new, something he has learned while he was away. And on his way, a woman with chronic hemorrhaging approaches him and “takes” some healing. Does Jesus get upset? Nope, he goes with the flow, and follows her lead, declaring that she has great faith.
It would appear that Jesus returned from his dislocating time away, and has learned to follow others to their homes, to their places of need.
Perhaps the most impactful time of our experience in Costa Rica this year will be staying with people in their homes. Jesus leads by example on this one. He didn’t have it easy when he came back home and continued to eat in homes of “not the right people” in his hometown. Whose homes would those be, here in Valparaiso, or Northwest Indiana?
The Costa Rica team from this congregation has been praying and preparing for four years to go experience dislocation. The first attempt at this trip was for June, 2020. As the pandemic arrived and deepened, rather than cancel the trip, we pivoted to a virtual trip. We were on Zoom for two days with refugees living in Costa Rica, who told us their stories and included us in their worship. We even learned to make gallo pinto, the breakfast recipe we shared with you in April, and ate in our own homes. While we didn’t make the physical trip, it was an experience of dislocation.
The pandemic continued in 2021 but the Christ Lutheran team wanted to stay together and remain in community with our community partners in Costa Rica. Our friends at Casa Adobe, encouraged us that rather than focus on going abroad, we should consider focusing on our own region. That year we did a triangular project supporting community gardens. We supported Casa Adobe in Costa Rica with their garden, and we also supported the installation of a community garden in a neighborhood in Gary that is considered a food desert.
The manifestation of that project is the experimental raised garden bed out in the backyard of this congregation. Not only is the garden bed a symbolic connection to the gardens in Gary and Costa Rica that taught us the importance of food and neighbors, but it provides food to men at the New Creation men’s shelter. The feedback the group has gotten about the donations of vegetables has been nothing short of humbling as men describe the deliciousness and the health benefits of eating fresh produce grown in town.
In 2022 the Costa Rica team looked at another aspect of the trip’s focus – water. We will be supporting local stream monitoring efforts in Costa Rica, and in 2022 we learned how to monitor streams in our own area. We took a walking tour right here at the church to learn about bioswales and native plants used for protecting the land of which you are stewards on this property.
Like Jesus, we came back from our original experience of dislocation (our virtual trip during the pandemic), and we started following those around us, observing and listening to needs and assets. Food deserts and homelessness, water quality and management, these are some of the biggest issues in our area, and we started paying more attention to them after our original focus had been on leaving our country.
We don’t know yet how we will be transformed on our trip to Costa Rica this year. We don’t know what blessing God will work through us as we step out in faith and leave our country. We may not know in our lifetimes! We don’t know who we will follow home, or who will ask for (or take!) our help when we come back. But we go out in faith to be dislocated, shaken up, and we pray to be blessed by that experience to be a blessing to others.
About the author:
Deaconess Kat Peters is the Assistant Director of the Institute for Leadership and Service at Valparaiso University. She has her Master’s in Education and Master’s in Rural Development from San José, Costa Rica, where she lived for nine years while working in study abroad and as a Deaconess in the Central American Lutheran Church. She lives in Valparaiso, Indiana, with her Costa Rican husband, Anthony, their two sons and their cat.